Raul Ibanez’s struggles through the first month of the 2010 season are well-documented. He has an OBP of .330 and a measly SLG of .350. Through May 3 last year, Ibanez had a .424 OBP and .733 SLG. From the time the soon-to-be 38-year-old returned from his groin injury in the second week of July ’09 through the end of the season, Ibanez managed just a .323 OBP and .448 SLG, indicating that his struggles predate this season.
In particular, it appears that Ibanez has struggled with the fastball. After posting a run value of 0.98 per 100 fastballs last year (carried heavily by his MVP-caliber first half), that has shrunk to negative 1.63 runs per 100 fastballs. He’s seen about 220 fastballs already, so he has been about negative 3.3 runs overall.
He has only muscled nine fastballs into the outfield, four of which have dropped in for hits: two in right-center, one in shallow center, and one down the left-field line.
By taking a look at his spray chart from the start of last year until his injury, we can see where a healthy and effective Ibanez typically hits the baseball.
The left-handed Ibanez mostly peppered left-center. That indicates that he was seeing the ball well and squaring it up properly and not swinging as a preemptive tactic against the fastball. Additionally, since he is not swinging preemptively and the fastball is traveling deeper in the strike zone, it indicates that Ibanez has enough bat speed to catch up to the fastball.
The following image shows his batted balls from the time he returned last year through yesterday.
He’s all over the place. More of his batted balls went from left-center towards the left field line. That indicates a slower bat. It also appears that he started pulling more balls down the right field line, perhaps a sign that he is swinging earlier to make up for a lack of bat speed.
It is not indicated on the graph, but the post-injury Ibanez has hit more than four percent more foul balls on fastballs than pre-injury Ibanez, 18.2% to 13.9%.
All of this could also be just one long cold streak. As David Cohen wrote at The Good Phight last year:
In the 36 games ending July 28, 2007, while Ibanez was playing for the Mariners, he hit .178/.228/.296 for a .524 OPS. And yet, by the end of that year, he was on fire once again — hitting .366/.432/.655 for a 1.087 OPS with 11 home runs and 30 RBI — for the 36 games ending September 9.
He did this in Kansas City as well. For the 36 games ending May 15, 2002, Ibanez was atrocious — .193/.224/.330 for a .554 OPS. He hit 1 home run and had only 14 RBI. This cold streak was sandwiched by two of Ibanez’s hottest streaks in his career, which I discussed earlier this year — his 36 games ending August 11, 2001 (.358/.475/.663 for a 1.138 OPS) and his 36 games ending July 19, 2002 (.364/.422/.803(!!) for a 1.225 OPS).
Whether it’s due to a random streak, mechanical problems, injury, or simply age, it is evident that Ibanez is having a lot of problems catching up to fastballs. While the Phillies have the National League’s second-best offense, if Ibanez can master the fastball again, the team would be less likely to go on cold streaks as they did April 17-27 when they averaged a meager three runs per game.
Thanks to Texas Leaguers for the great Pitch F/X spray charts.